For­mer bull rider finds joy in train­ing cut­ting horses

Austin American-Statesman - - FUNERAL AND MEMORIALS - By Ly­dia DePil­lis Hous­ton Chron­i­cle El Paso Times

Pro­fes­sional cut­ting horses have never ac­tu­ally worked on a ranch run­ning cat­tle, but they’ve trained all their lives to act like it.

Roy Carter teaches that skill — how to sep­a­rate a cow from the herd.

“When it starts fol­low­ing the cow with his ears,” Carter said last week, “then you know you’re get­ting some­where.”

Carter, 65, a cut­ting horse trainer with deep crags in his face and a tur­key feather in his flat-brimmed hat, has been at­tend­ing the Hous­ton Live­stock Show and Rodeo since he was a kid — his fa­ther worked on a farm on Wes­theimer Road, back when it wasn’t full of strip malls.

By age 13, he’d got­ten into bull rid­ing, and he had his face bashed in dur­ing one com­pe­ti­tion, re­quir­ing re­con­struc­tive surgery. A few years later, he broke his neck and his back.

“I went out and sat in my car for two hours and cried, think­ing of what I was go­ing to do for a liv­ing,” af­ter a visit to the doc­tor, he re­called. “And then I went out and rode bulls for another 13 years.”

He hadn’t gone to col­lege, so bull rid­ing was among his few op­tions. He loved it more than any­thing, and it paid the bills. “I didn’t save any money,” he said, “but I al­ways had money in my pocket.”

Carter fi­nally quit bull rid­ing in 1985. It wasn’t the in­juries, he said, just time and a weari­ness with con­stant travel. The next-best thing was train­ing cut­ting horses, so he trained un­der the best in the busi­ness, Keith Bar­nett.

Ev­ery­body seems to know one another in this in­dus­try, since you’ve ei­ther taught or been taught by or trained hors­es­for­mostev­ery­bodyelse.

“He’s a leg­end,” said at least three peo­ple who passed by Carter as he leaned on a stall door in the re­cesses of NRG Arena as horses waited their turn to show.

The money’s a lit­tle stead­ier in the train­ing busi­ness than it is rid­ing bulls, but it’s by no means assured. Cut­ting horses are lux­ury goods: Most are owned by folks with ex­pend­able in­come who just like to com­pete on the week­ends, and a good one can go for up­wards of $100,000. One of Carter’s clients flies in from Idaho a few times a year to ride the horse he trains for her.

Around Hous­ton, the busi­ness sank a lit­tle dur­ing the oil bust, as en­ergy ex­ec­u­tives cut back on those lit­tle ex­trav­a­gances. It’s com­ing back, said Johnny Causey, chair­man of the rodeo’s cut­ting horse com­mit­tee. But then there’s al­ways the risk of hav­ing a few bad shows, not bring­ing in the prize money you’re count­ing on — and if that goes on long enough, you start los­ing your rep­u­ta­tion, and your horses won’t sell for as much.

That hasn’t hap­pened for Carter, who now trains 22 horses at his ranch in Per­rin, a tiny town in North Texas. Still, he stays di­ver­si­fied by breed­ing buck­ing bulls as well, about 30 of them, which he leases out to rodeos around the state. They’re friendly when they’re not try­ing to kill you, he said.

On Tues­day of last week, Carter was show­ing one of his clients’ horses, a dark brown 5-year-old mare with a small star on her fore­head named Freck­les Pow­der River. She’s small and skit­tish, and Carter had to treat her gen­tly for a long time be­fore she learned to trust. “She didn’t like her­self when I got her,” he said.

Af­ter walk­ing her in cir­cles to keep her calm while other horses took their turn, Joenell, Carter’s wife, handed the mare off to him. Hunched in the sad­dle, Carter rode her for­ward into the milling herd and went straight for a brown cow with a big white stripe on its face.

Cut­ting horse judg­ing is a sub­jec­tive process. There are a few rules: You’ve got to sin­gle out a cow and keep it away from the rest of the herd un­til it comes to a stand­still. Af­ter that, it’s mostly style — how the horse moves, low to the ground, piv­ot­ing on its mas­sive haunches, spring­ing for­ward with ex­plo­sive speed to counter ev­ery des­per­ate end run.

By those met­rics, Freck­les Pow­der River did well. But she didn’t get a chance to show off as much as Carter would’ve liked, and by the end, he knew he wouldn’t be win­ning any money in this divi­sion.

Sixty years ago, one of Wil­liam and Margaret Pat­ter­son’s neigh­bors took boxes of Girl Scout cook­ies to their home and, feel­ing un­wel­come, soon left.

That was the last time any­one re­calls see­ing the cou­ple — and the last lead de­tec­tives had as they tried to solve the mys­tery of the cou­ple’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

“I took some cook­ies to Mrs. Pat­ter­son, and she seemed very up­set,” Jeri Cash told the El Paso Times for a March 18, 2013, ar­ti­cle. “It was the only time I had talked to her. The cou­ple tended to keep to them­selves. The hus­band seemed un­happy that I was in the house, and I left soon af­ter, leav­ing the cook­ies with her. She was a tiny (pe­tite) woman, and he al­ways came across as mean and un­friendly.”

The Pat­ter­sons, who lived in the 3000 block of Pied­mont Drive, were last seen be­tween March 5 and 6, 1957, ac­cord­ing to El Paso po­lice records.

The Pat­ter­sons’ dis­ap­pear­ance re­mains one of El Paso’s great un­solved mys­ter­ies. It’s still an open case.

“Any un­solved case for us is very frus­trat­ing,” said Sgt. Jim Belk­nap, su­per­vi­sor of the El Paso County Sher­iff ’s Crimes Against Per­sons unit, who has worked the case on and off for more than 10 years.

“Over the years, peo­ple have come up with their own per­sonal the­o­ries and ideas of what hap­pened . ... Those the­o­ries cre­ate mys­tery — and ev­ery­body loves a mys­tery.”

The dis­ap­pear­ance of the Pat­ter­sons has in­spired sto­ries of es­pi­onage and even tales of UFO ab­duc­tions.

Ac­counts of what hap­pened to them have ranged from kid­nap­ping to mur­der, with some be­liev­ing they were killed and buried on the home’s premises.

Leg­end has it that their spir­its haunt the old house on Pied­mont Drive.

For­mer El Paso County Sher­iff Leo Sa­maniego once the­o­rized that the Pat­ter­sons were spies who dropped ev­ery­thing and left.

Wil­liam and Margaret Pat­ter­son, 52 and 42 years old when they were last seen, owned Pat­ter­son Photo Sup­ply.

As­so­ci­ates told po­lice the cou­ple went on an ex­tended Florida va­ca­tion and later sent in­struc­tions to dis­trib­ute his prop­er­ties to his friends, em­ploy­ees and col­leagues.

The leads and the­o­ries went nowhere, and new tips oc­ca­sion­ally sur­face.

“We con­tinue to re­visit the case and go back over the case from time to time,” said Belk­nap, who be­gan work­ing on it around 2005. “Any­time we get new in­for­ma­tion from peo­ple who call in, we fol­low up on those leads.”

“At that time it was a mat­ter of put­ting to­gether as a com­plete a case as we could, which is some­times dif­fi­cult with older cases,” he said. “Once we got the case to­gether, we broke it down and rein­ter­viewed some peo­ple and came up with ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion and leads.

“Un­for­tu­nately those leads did not pan out,” Belk­nap said. “We con­tin­ued go­ing over the case and look­ing at dif­fer­ent as­pects of it, and that’s pretty much where we are now.”

HOUS­TON CHRON­I­CLE JON SHAPLEY /

This video frame grab shows Roy Carter, a cut­ting horse trainer, pet­ting his son’s horse at the Hous­ton Live­stock Show and Rodeo on March 7 in Hous­ton.

Margaret and Wil­liam Pat­ter­son were last seen be­tween March 5 and 6, 1957, in El Paso.

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